One perfect day back in 1976, I had made all the plans and spent all my hard earned allowance on a picnic in the backyard to cheer my sister, Anna Grace, up for some unremembered reason. I had mowed the lawn the day before so that sweet shorn smell still hung in the air calling dinner time to all the birds. The Michigan sky was a deep, impossible blue with a few fat fluffy clouds floating overhead like giant cotton candy pillows of spun sugar. Tiger Lilies thickly bloomed behind the old white garage, their orange and freckled petals wafting the heady scent of summer. A clothes line was strung from one corner with half a line full of sheets billowing in the warm breeze. Down by the grape vines and my small patch of snapdragons stood the big tree, like a guardian angel with wings of boughs spread wide, where the line wrapped around and made its way to the other side of the garage, completing a “V” for “victory” shape for me.
It was there I spread my beach towel so we could be dappled by the afternoon sunlight. We were hidden in our own little world imagining no one could see us. From here, we could survey our small kingdom of backyard with the huge garden behind us filled with delicious dinners growing towards harvest. The garden was sectioned like rooms of a house. Actually, the whole yard was that way. A real picnic area, complete with table and a place for the grill, was close by the back door. We could have had our picnic there but there was white gravel rock was under the table, and I wanted the lush feel of warm summer grass to sit on. Our play area complete with swing set and jungle gym, had its own area marked out. Yes, our mother was kind of anal about things and our backyard showed it.
So on our hidden patch of grass, my sister and I sat with our bounty of Lay’s potato chips, French Onion dip, M&M’s, Jolly Ranchers, Milk Duds, and Sprite to drink for both of us spread all around. Happily we were munching away when out of NO WHERE -SPLUNK! My sister let loose with a chip gobbed high with dip and landed a direct hit on my GLASSES! Oh it was ON! Chips and dip flew all over us! Rolling off of the towel and into the grass, we smeared it all in each other’s hair and on our faces, the both of us laughing so hard and loud that our mother came out of the house to see what was going on. She said nothing but went and stood by the garden hose waiting until we were exhausted of mayhem so she could hose us off like feral grass monsters. Cigarette in her hand, she manned the hose like a professional fire fighter with a small smirk lurking at the corner of her mouth. With all us kids, this was not anything new; we had to be hosed off regularly. My thoughts drifted back to the day when I first met my sister as the cold water rinsed grass, crumbs of chips, dip, and spilled pop from my hair.
There she lay, not quite a week old, listless from the drugs given to our mother, and exhausted from the trauma of a long drawn out labor and birth. Her eyes not open and me hoping that when they did, they would be brown like mine. They ended up being a witchy greenish hazel brown. Barely a sound came from her. I was five and did not understand that this listless doll-like creature had been hiding in the belly of my mother. Over the next few weeks, I found out quickly that things had changed and she was the reason. No more treats and surprises from my stepfather; she got them all since I was no longer the “baby.” I was commanded to “grow up” and “be a big girl now,” so I simply tried to ignore them all just as they now ignored me.
Of course, all her quietness changed as soon as I had to share a room with her. Every night I would lay awake because I knew that as soon as I fell asleep, she would wake up crying. No one ever heard her but me. I don’t think I ever slept through a night again. She grew quickly and learned how to bite, and even if I were to beat her, she would not release her jaws of razor teeth from my finger. I’m surprised I still have them all. It’s not like I purposely would put my fingers in her mouth, but she was always trying to swallow everything that would fit. I was simply trying to retrieve the items before she choked to death. Yes, I got into a lot of trouble for beating on her.
As she got older (and more evil), peace became a stranger to me except for when I escaped to school. She would follow me around, wanting to do everything I did. I became creative about where I would go but I don’t think my mom appreciated the time I took her to the roof to jump off. I was always the “big sister” so I was the one that had to compromise because I “knew better.” I’m the one who got into trouble when she would make fun of the lady down the street with all the cats. It was my best toys and dolls; she would get a hold of and destroy and never once got into trouble for it. As I got older, I learned how to handle her annoying behavior. No more stolen items or crushed eye shadow. No more lip gloss smeared over my mirror. I finally had figured out where and how to hide my things.
Oh why do we love our little demon sisters? Why did I at the age of six, change her diaper that time it was so nasty the smell and looks of it made my stepdad vomit? Why did I not let her, when she was two, drown in the wading pool? Why did I carry her the five blocks home when she crashed her bike because she was trying to keep up with me while I was trying desperately to ditch her? Why did I let her, with her ice cold feet, crawl into bed with me on all those long bitter winter nights when the furnace went out? Why did I spend hours brushing and fixing her hair so she would look like the angel that everyone else thought she was -when I knew better? Why did I never claim my vengeance by hiding her favorite stuffed clown, Twinkles, when I had the chance? Was it because if she would scream like a banshee if she did not get her way? Or was it something else?
My sister can still be annoying but that something else –that bond of love is there even today. I know my leaving home upset her greatly. She told me she felt lost and alone without her protector and hero. Thankfully she has a more rational and real-life view of me now because I’m not sure I could live up to that. And I don’t think she has ever realized how many times I could so easily have killed her! We try to touch base a few times each week, dropping a “Like” or two on our Facebook pages. We will even take a moment to drop a line of real words or a phone call when we need to hear the sound of the other’s voice. We are a comfort for each other. And someday, I have no doubt, we will be once again living in the same house, annoying each other, having chip and dip fights out on the back lawn, being dappled by sunlight, and glorying in being dubbed by the neighborhood children as “those weird old cat lady sisters down the road.”